Team Canada finished the preliminary round with a 4-0 record, earning themselves first place in their group and a bye into the semi-finals. Although they did not dominate like the lockout team of 2004-05, they did what they needed to do to win all four games. I made some notes during the games and here are five things thought caught my eye:
1. Taking Care of Business – You can’t really take much from Canada’s first two games against Germany and Slovakia. Although both teams play hard and have a few very good players, they are clearly on a lower level than Canada and the other top nations. There were some things that I liked and some things that I didn’t like with Canada’s game in the two contests, but there is no need to praise them or be critical for those performances as they did what they needed to do.
2. Secondary Scoring –After watching the two exhibition games I had a feeling that secondary scoring would be an issue and I submitted the idea of moving Mark Scheifele into the second line center role to spread out the offense. Given how dominant the RNH-Huberdeau-Scheifele line has been, I thought that coach Spott would not want to mess with their chemistry. Even when the team had a lineup of 11 forwards he did his best to keep that line intact while mixing up the other units. However, he boldly switched things up for the team’s final preliminary game against Russia adding Jonathan Drouin to the top unit with RNH and Scheifele and dropping Huberdeau down to the second line with Ryan Strome and Ty Rattie, pushing Brett Ritchie down to the third line.
I was concerned with both Strome andRitchie anchoring the second line after watching the two pre-tournament contests, but both players have produced early in the tournament. Strome has six points , while Ritchie has three. Against the USA, with a lineup of 11 forwards and Ritchie playing banged up, Strome was often centering Jonathan Drouin and Nate MacKinnon. Whether coach Spott keeps the current lines together or if he reunites the big three on the top line, the second unit will need to produce in the medal rounds as they have been getting nothing from their bottom two lines. That could change with the return of Boone Jenner to the lineup, he was very good against Russia, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
3. Establishing the Top Four – The Canadians have actively been playing all seven defensemen keeping them all involved, but as the tournament has gone on it appears as though coach Spott has established his top two pairings. Dougie Hamilton was paired with Scott Harrington and Griffin Reinhart was paired with Xavier Ouellet, while Morgan Rielly, Ryan Murphy and Tyler Wotherspoon were rotating through on the third pairing.
Rielly started the tournament on the pair with Hamilton, but has since been supplanted in the top four by Reinhart. It will be interesting to see how Reinhart handles going against better competition in the medal round. In my opinion he has looked slow on the big ice and I would prefer to have another puck mover in the top four.
4. Goaltending – Goaltending was the biggest question mark for this team coming into the tournament and after the first two games the focus was even greater on starter Malcolm Subban as he allowed 3 goals against both Germany and Slovakia. However, he responded in the game against the United States with 36 saves in a 2-1 win. He was Canada’s best player and was named the player of the game. He followed that up with another very solid performance in a 4-1 win over Russia.
Spott named Subban the starter before the tournament and said he was going to ride him the whole way. Although it is a short tournament, I am not sure I agree with this philosophy. I’m surprised he did not get backup Jordan Binnington a start against Germany or Slovakia to keep him sharp in the event he was needed later in the tournament.
5. Full Roster–With a number of suspensions, Monday’s game against Russia was the first time that Canada had their full roster available for a game in the tournament. This allowed coach Spott to mix up his line combinations. This was Canada’s best game of the tournament thus far and it will be important to see if these new groupings can find that same chemistry in the medal round.
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